Going in the way-back machine thirty-seven years ago to 1979 is Star Trek The Motion Picture, where I first met my fellow traveler and brother of over 100 feature films, Jerry Goldsmith, easily one of the most important composers of film and modern classical music in the 20th Century.
It was in the summer of 1979, I’m just back from Hawaii and dressed all in white and a big coconut oil tan. Don Ellis, who was the head of A&R at Columbia Records, where I was on staff as a producer, knew that I was a geek about gear and fascinated by the new digital technology and thought that I would make a perfect match for the soundtrack album of Star Trek The Motion Picture. At that time Columbia Records was owned by William S. Paley and it is rumored that he was a fan of Star Trek, so when news arrived that Paramount was going to make the feature, Columbia jumped right into the game and came up with the basic financing of the music score as well as the rights for the soundtrack album. As Columbia’s representative, I was to be Columbia’s producer of the album along with Jerry Goldsmith.
In order to be as advanced as the Star Date 7410.2, as portrayed in the feature, I was able to acquire a Sony PCM-1600 digital processor and two U-Matic BVU-200 video recorders to record the score.
The first recording date at 20th Century Fox Music Scoring was September 24, 1979 and the scoring mixer was John Neal, who also recorded the scores for Close Encounters and 1941 and parts of Jaws along with my mentor from my Liberty Records days, Ted Keep. The conducting was split between Lionel Newman, the head of music for Fox and Jerry. Jerry preferred to be in the control room so that he could get the live mix balances as there wasn’t anytime to do remixes. We ran a live Stereo mix which was recorded on the PCM system and a ¼” Analogue 2 track running at 15 ips with Teldec Noise Reduction.
Now here comes the fun part. The last day of recording was November 29, 1979 and we had to have 500,000 vinyl records for the premiere on December 7, 1979 at the Space and Science Museum in Washington D.C.
At the October AES, (Audio Engineers Society), convention in Los Angeles, Sony showed a hand built digital audio editor that could edit the PCM-1600 content. Somehow I convinced Sony to loan the editor to me to digitally edit the album. On the 30th, Jerry and I camped out in my Columbia Records office with copious amounts of Chinese food and spent a very long day into the night to edit and master the album. When it was done, Jerry decided that he wanted to change the sequence. Since all editing at that time was linear and in real time, to redo the sequence could take a couple of hours. We set about the new sequence and when we got to the second cue the editor refused to make the edit. With the help of Curtis Chan at Sony, we called Japan, changed chips, everything and anything they and we could think of, but no change. Jerry and I went home and I was resigned that I was going to have to transfer from the original edited digital master to Analogue with Dolby, and master the lacquer masters this way. That morning December 1, 1979, I packed up the PCM-1600 and the BVU’s, and headed off to Capitol Records mastering to master with Wally Traugot. On my way down to master with Wally, an engineer named John from the Capitol tech shop stopped me in the hallway and said, “My wife is a psychic and says that you are working with a new electronic system and possibly we could help you find the gremlins and save your day. It totally blew my mind, as I was certain that my life was over and Columbia would fire me for not making the release date six days away.
With nothing to lose, I packed up the system and headed back to my office where we set about psychically looking for the problem. With John in my office, and his wife on the speakerphone, I re-made the edit and once again the editor failed. With John touching each individual piece of equipment, the editor and two BVU’s, she couldn’t sense that anything was wrong. Then she asked what was the media and I ejected the ¾” videocassette from the player, nothing wrong there, then ejected the cassette that we were recording on and she said, “that’s it, it is bad.” Sure enough, I put in a new cassette and the edit worked. There was a time code interruption that caused the editor to abort at that particular frame.
It took me a couple of hours to re-sequence the album and pack up the gear. Off to Capitol and Wally, I went, and we made release.
That was my introduction to the vicissitudes of digital and my long and wonderful relationship with Jerry Goldsmith and the illustrious Kenny Hall, Jerry’s music editor. The next feature was Poltergeist with Jerry and then John Williams for ET.
I like working with digital, but have to say, Long Live Analogue!!
Talking about Analogue, three years ago I joined with noted archivist Mike Matessino to restore the soundtrack for CD that had all of the cues in the film. We were able to get the original 30 ips nab 16 track analog scoring masters from the Paramount Pictures vault and did a very careful analogue to digital archive at 192/24. From the new archive we remixed all the cues with superb results and now have Stereo and 5.1 surround masters.